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Priyanka ShahJanuary 14, 2019


Hardiya — a village in Bihar’s Nawada district — has got its ‘pad women’. Yes, in the plural.

A group of 12 young girls have set up a sanitary napkin bank with their own contribution to managing their menstrual hygiene

This has been made possible through an initiative by the Population Foundation of India which facilitated setting up of Kishori (adolescent) clubs in two districts of Bihar. The members get together on a regular basis to learn, discuss and generate awareness on issues related to sexual and reproductive health and rights of women.

Menstrual health was not a part of their regular discussion.

But once the cluster coordinator of an NGO partner in Nawada noticed that a member had not been attending regular meetings for about two months — because of severe menstrual cramps and sanitation-related concerns — the issue was taken up.

From then on, menstrual hygiene management became a regular topic of discussion in the club.

Taboos are many.

We can’t deny how menstruation and menstrual health management have been obscured by a culture of silence that has allowed misinformation and discriminatory practices to perpetuate. Shame and associated stigma changed a natural biological phenomenon into a ‘taboo’.

Seema Kumari, the head of the Kishori Club in Hardiya village, said that the awareness-building programme related to child marriage, teenage pregnancy and menstrual hygiene has been greatly beneficial to all the girls.

“The issue that I felt most strongly about was menstrual hygiene and sanitary napkins. While we had prior knowledge on the subject, we did not know enough. Didi (cluster coordinator) told us about the dangers of using cloth and the risk of contracting life-threatening infections from unhygienic sanitary practices. She also told us about the benefits of using hygienic sanitary products and explained to us the positive impact it can have on our education and overall life. After we were made aware of the serious implications of poor menstrual hygiene, we took a collective decision to tackle this issue,” she said.

The members of the Kishori club decided to start using sanitary napkins, but many girls hesitated as they were not comfortable buying pads from local vendors in the village.

“Each of us started saving 1 rupee from our pocket money and set up a fund to buy sanitary napkins. We also began distributing napkins from our ‘sanitary bank’ to girls who could not afford to buy or contribute to the fund,” said Seema.

Bulk purchase of sanitary napkins also helped the young girls to save money.

While initially, the girls’ families reprimanded them for wasting time on such issues, they later became supportive when they heard about the importance and necessity of menstrual hygiene.

“We have made it a point to share our knowledge on menstrual hygiene with our friends in school and encourage girls to switch to sanitary napkins instead of cloth, rags, and so on,” she said.

The twelve young girls from the Kishori club of Hardiya have been hailed as heroes and are constantly thanked by families for their efforts in taking charge of promoting sanitation and spreading awareness on menstrual health.

Data suggests that girls are largely at par with boys up to adolescence, but with the onset of puberty,the educational outcomes of girls begin to diverge and they face increasing restrictions on their mobility and agency.

According to a 2015 report by Dasra, about 23 per cent of girls drop out of school annually because of lack of awareness and poor menstrual hygiene management.

Young girls like Seema Kumari have taken it upon themselves to break the myths and the culture of silence to ensure that girls from their community have access to hygienic sanitary products in order to continue their education.

Even though these girls belong to a remote village, with very little exposure to the outside world, they have surmounted social pressures and economic constraints to find ways to deal with the everyday challenges in menstrual health management.

This article was first published at DailyO

Kazim RizviJanuary 7, 2019


The world has increasingly taken to an online presence. In a sense, we have developed a community that exists on the web and thrives from the existence of data flows. However, because of the nature, speed, and scalability of online data transfer, the security threats can have very real consequences to individuals or whole organizations, as well as their online presence.

This area of thought is often referred to as cybersecurity. Securing cyberspace is fundamental to protect democratic institutions, the economy, free-speech and flow of ideas, as well as privacy, safety and security of people.

The need for digital peace becomes more important and urgent as the volume of internet traffic grows. Today, 3.7 billion of us are on the internet, and we produce an astonishing 2.5 quintillion bytes a day.

As human presence expands on the internet the stakes get higher and every day we have a little more to lose to cyber attacks. In fact, in 2017, almost 1 billion people were victims of cyber attacks. Ten years from now, we will consider it a wise course of action if today we take steps to protect ourselves against such tragedies. WannaCry and NotPetya should serve as warning signs going forward, and not merely as anomalies that might not be repeated.

As we move towards a hyper-connected world and with the advancement of Artificial Intelligence and the 4th Industrial Revolution, online connectivity is going to be the oxygen of future growth. We cannot risk our survival and global prosperity to weak laws and policies that have been incapable of protecting our cyberspace.

Cyber threat is real, and is among the greatest challenges for mankind today. This is why the world needs a step up to counter and mitigate this challenge to make the world safe, secure and more prosperous for the generations to come.

The Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace in November 2018 — that was officially released by President Macron — is an unprecedented step to drive digital peace. It is a high-level political declaration inviting all concerned stakeholders (companies, the civil society, and the government) to signal their commitment to reinforce cooperation and increase cyberspace stability, applicability of international law in cyberspace and the ability to prevent cyber attacks.

Why India should lead

India is the fastest major growing economy in the world, with a demographic dividend that is well placed to take the country towards a global leadership role. At home, India is witnessing strong growth in the digital economy and is an emerging IT superpower.

The Digital India programme is slowly empowering the youth of this nation, enabling people to communicate with their loved ones at the touch of a button, transfer money instantly, quicken the delivery of services and much more. Businesses have prospered, people are able to use an increasing amount of services that help make their lives easier, and India’s digitisation has helped deliver government services digitally and promote digital literacy.

India also boasts of the world’s largest national ID programme, second largest number of internet users, high social media penetration and a growing market for digital services that is set to overtake China in the coming decades.

On the strategic front, India has had a great track record in dealing with global security concerns. India led in the international arms control and disarmament negotiations as well as the UN GGE process, where it advocated the development of a common understanding on responsible state behaviour in cyberspace.

India is a member of the high-level panel on digital cooperation headed by Jack Ma, which is aimed at strengthening international commitment on digital issues. It has also encouraged Russia and China, and got them to support ICANN’s multi-stakeholder approach through smart techlomacy by engaging with BRICS. India has played a leading role globally on net neutrality as well.

It is, therefore, only natural that India takes lead on issues concerning global security in the cyberspace.

The Road Ahead

India could leverage its infrastructure, dynamism, talent and energy towards the effective implementation of right policies to shape future course of action. Our stakeholders, comprising of organisations, civil-society and the government, must join up to the cause of digital peace. We need more trust and confidence between such stakeholders to prevent cyber attacks, respond to hacks and protect the integrity of internet. They can cooperate to prevent proliferation of malicious tools and techniques, work together to strengthen domestic policies and laws as well as coordinating more closely to safeguard our democratic process.

Security by default must become the norm for digital products and services and we must remember that this call is not just for IT-led organisations or professionals, but it matters to you, as much as it matters to me. We all need the internet as consumers, professionals, organisations, policy-makers, academia or political leaders.

As Stephen Hawking says in the song Talkin’ Hawkin’ by Pink Floyd, “all we need to do now, is keep talking” – but also act on our responsibilities to protect digital space.

This article was first published at DailyO

Bappaditya MukhopadhyayDecember 26, 2018


Artificial Intelligence – Machine Learning (AIML) and ‘disruption’- we can’t keep them away from most discussions anymore. There is hope and despair, often expressed in the same breath. The case of disruption is real-and it is often on the foundation laid by AIML, particularly affecting the industries related to service delivery. It leaves us often wondering-what about the most essential service provider-the Government? Would AIML also disrupt them? If it does how will it be? Is that desirable? Avoidable even? Or will it improve what the service provider is supposed to do-deliver more efficiently to most? Some answers are obvious-We are not talking of disrupting or toppling a Government, least of all, the one elected by popular mandate. But certainly, AIML leveraged well can be just the disruption we need to solve the service delivery bottlenecks faced in India. To leverage it fully, what needs to be done? As a starting point, let us acknowledge the importance of data.


Public policy needs to be data driven because it is objective. This is particularly true for India as the elected Government has to address various diverse groups in the society differentiated by demographic parameters and thus any policy announcement not only needs to be unbiased, it must appear so too. What is more objective than data? So far, most of the data used for policy making was generated through survey-asking respondents.  rounds. Specific programs were then designed and targeted at solving problems based on the data gathered. While the data gathering process has become more efficient over the years, some problems continue to remain. The enormous time that is usually taken to finish each survey round across India inevitably means that the data is available for analysis and hence any decision making more than two years after the process had started. Such lags can often render decisions based on such data ineffective. More seriously, data collected as such are often subject to Moral Hazard, that is the respondents may misreport if they anticipate such misrepresentation could be beneficial for them. Economists have for long tried to address the issue through designing appropriate contracts. However, in spite of their best efforts, the solution they propose is often the second best, and termed so even in the literature. Simply put, being able to form policies on a data that is not manipulated by the respondents will always give higher benefits to the society than any data that is subjected to moral hazard. This is where AIML, through their innovative approaches and usage of unstructured datacan help.  For example, estimating property tax using Satellite images of constructed area will be a far better and accurate proxy than sending boots on the ground to verify the same. Data from such images are real time and almost impossible to manipulate either by the respondents or by the inspectors. Citizens expressing dissatisfaction about local or national level Governance on social media often are far better proxies than when they same individuals are coaxed to respond to a set of questionnaires. While by now, the importance of such data and associated techniques are well appreciated, the focus is now rapidly shifting towards the role of the State in it.


In this setup, there are two major roles the Government has. The two roles of the  Government, that between the enabler and the regulator is needed to be minutely balanced when it  comes to using AIML for service delivery. A too conservative approach and we lose the opportunity to remove the bottlenecks that are prevailing and a too slacked regulatory regime, the damages could be irreversible.


The role of the Government as the regulator is mainly examined in the context of ownership, privacy and security of such data. While, these issues are not new, the importance of addressing them now swiftly is necessary owing to the process and the speed at which unstructured data is captured. Unlike the data that we have been using so far, capturing such data do not require consent from the individual. For example, we do not need the permission of an individual to calculate their square feet built up area if we use Satellite images. Further, most of the data is generated real time implying that any regulations on the process or the frequency of such data collected cannot be regulated. It would be futile to put restrictions on what data one can capture unlike in the case of questionnaires where one can restrict the types of questions that can be asked or even the individual may refuse to divulge sensitive information. Thus, the regulatory framework must address -what part of the data can be used, by whom, for what, when and why! The issues are far too complex to hope that we can codify laws prescribing do’s and don’ts. However, it would be worthwhile to separate the subjective elements from the ones which are objective. Trying to define ‘privacy’ may be one such subjective element and an exercise which we are trying to codify in details. It is doubtful how far will we go this route. After all, what constitutes ‘privacy’ may have different interpretations across societies, and then within it, across individuals. Perhaps focusing on anonymity would be easier to address and hence regulate. A structure that preserves anonymity of an individuals’ behavior and preferences are more likely to elicit true responses than that which doesn’t preserve anonymity. While the State needs to quickly put down a structure, an incremental approach is the order of the day. With a fast-changing scenario and new challenges being posed daily pertaining to data secrecy, one cannot hope to wait for long to come up with a law that would eventually address all issues. It is time that we address the anonymity versus privacy debate.


However, the more interesting role of the Government is one of the enabler. With the advent of AIML, the disruption in Public Policy is eminent too. We no longer need the Government to solve the problems all by themselves, nor do we need Governments to appoint expert committees to solve them. Using newer data and compatible techniques is the domain of experts in AIML. They merely need the Government to devise the appropriate platform to showcase the solutions. Using data from the drone or the Satellite image to map agricultural production and predicting harvest, doesn’t require Government to assign the task. The Government merely needs to maintain and open the data access for validating their findings, often with their own databases.  New ideas and solutions based on modern techniques will compete and prescribe the best outcomes without explicit guidance by the Government. The solutions from such exercises are customized to local needs. The main task of the State in this framework is to ensure that the data it has are regularly updated and most importantly consistent across its various arms. The biggest complain the Data Scientists interested in Policy related analytics is that the database of the Government itself ‘do not talk to each other’. To illustrate the simple point, it would be impossible to find any two Government records that have identical spellings of all the Districts in India! Getting the data on simple time series on any Economic variables are haphazard with too many missing years and observations. With the appointment of the new Chief Data Officer, one hopes that the office focuses on making reliable and complete data available to all, much more than collecting new data.


With new techniques comes entirely new approach to solve the problem. Let me end with the example shared by the panelists. An experiment was done in Delhi regarding areas that were ‘unsafe’ for women after dark. Women were given a simple device which they would click whenever they felt unsafe in an area. The data was collated and a heat map of troubled areas were determined. The list was the shared with the local SHO. This is what power of Data driven Analytics can do…identify problems where they are, even locally. But what about the solution? For the police to increase the ‘rounds’ of the beat cop in the identified area required clearing of bureaucratic red tape. The proposal therefore, although ingenuous could not be acted upon. Few hundred Kilometers way in Punjab , a similar exercise was conducted. Only this time, the solution did not require State intervention. Instead what was proposed was an encouragement for street hawkers to run their businesses in these dark spot. A classic example of complex problems being solved by data Science, by stake holders at a very local level, but a solution that did not require Bureaucratic nod. AIML enabled policy recommendations will work best when the State merely allows them to identify, design and solve problems.


Disruptions will happen in Public policy too. As long as the Government manages to balance its regulatory role and that of the limited interference enabler, such disruptions is what will augur well for India. AIML is based on information flow and processing it efficiently, any steps to curtail or structure it is futile.


dialogueDecember 16, 2018


The Dialogue delivered a conference on AI, Privacy and Cross-Border data flows and also released a Working Paper titled “Intersection of Artificial Intelligence with Cross-Border Data Flow and Privacy”, at the Constitution Club of India.

The findings of the paper suggest that privacy can complement innovation in AI along with the fact that cross-border flow of data is imperative to drive AI growth in the future. Every day, large amounts of data flow course through the internet, over borders to power technologies that is leveraged for AI development and deployment. This data may originate from many sources located in multiple jurisdictions, making it imperative that data can move freely across borders. At the same time, with rising data collection and storage, doctrinal notions around ‘consent’ and ‘privacy notices’ should be considered. Privacy by design techniques can be incorporated at the level of privacy notices but also at each level of information flow till its storage and processing stage.

Founding Director of The Dialogue, Mr. Kazim Rizvi, stated, “This paper addresses two key challenges – enabling cross-border data flows to drive AI and ensuring that high-level privacy standards are complied with for AI deployment. For India to emerge as a leader in AI, it is crucial to harness its potential while maintaining privacy of citizens, while at the same time, we must ensure that data is allowed to flow across borders to give our technologists, scientists, engineers and developers the best possible opportunity to leverage AI for India’s development.”

The discussion in the conference revolved around the value of data for AI, importance for cross-border data flows, the ethical, legal and privacy aspects around AI deployment and a policy framework going forward. The discussions from the conference will be inputted towards the completion of the working paper for final publication in January.

The keynote address were given by Mr. Kalikesh Singh Deo, MP Lok Sabha and Dr. Neeta Verma, Director-General, National Informatics Centre, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, while Dr. Narendra Jadhav, MP Rajya Sabha, gave the valedictory remarks.

Other officials from the government included Dr. Avik Sarkar, NITI Aayog and Mr. Atul Tripathi. The conference saw participation from industry such as Ms. Bishakha Bhattacharya, IBM, Mr. Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, BSA Software Alliance, Ms. Anubhuti Bhrany, HP, as well as civil-society professionals such as Mr. Saikat Datta, Asia Times, Mr. Naman Aggarwal, Access Now, Mr. Apar Gupta, Internet Freedom, Mr. Amol Kulkarni, CUTS International, Mr. Rahul Sharma, IAPP, Ms. Gunja Kapoor from Pahle India Foundation, Mr. Adnan Ansari, 9.9 Insights, Ms. Anulekha Nandi, Digital Empowerment Foundation and Mr. Harsh Bajpai, The Dialogue. The event witnessed a strong participation from the legal community comprising of Ms. Meenu Chandra, Adyopant Legal, Mr. Prasanna S, Independent Lawyer, Ms. Pritka Kumar and Mr. Kushan Chakraborty from Cornellia Chambers, Ms. Arya Tripathi, PSA Legal and Mr. Aaron Kamath, Nishith Desai Associates.

The tech community saw participation from Dr. Gaurav Gandhi, Mlabs and Mr. Pranav, Analytics Vidhya.

Dr. Neeta Verma, DG, NIC, Government of India stated that AI-driven strategies needs to be developed by our country for social welfare. “An inclusive growth of our country is required. We can’t let AI be just a privilege to the elite, it should include people from all spheres. Look at healthcare in India. There is a lack of access to healthcare and quality healthcare. The problem is not that these facilities are not available in remote areas, but it is that doctors don’t want to go to such areas. AI can assist doctors – whether it’s robotic heart surgery that we saw last week in Gujarat or early diabetic detection. Agriculture, Education and Smart Cities are some of the other areas vital to India’s development.”

Mr. Deo added, “Rather than a threat, AI can be an opportunity. The engineering graduates can develop new spheres using technology and Artificial Intelligence, which in turn can create new jobs”.

The keynote session was followed by a panel discussion on Value of Data to AI and Innovation that was moderated by Ms. Meenu Chandral. The panelists included Dr. Avik Sarkar, Mr. Apar Gupta, Mr. Gaurav Gandhi, Ms. Gunja Kapoor.

The panel focused on identifying the importance of data for AI and the innovation it can drive in the future. Another key discussion that came out of this panel was the value proposition of data. When is the data really valuable? When it comes to big data, analytics and AI, the value does not come from collecting the data, or even from deriving some insight from it — value comes from just one thing: action.

Ms. Chandra mentioned how the value of data is not only monetary value. Kicking off the discussions, Dr. Avik Sarkar talked about data in the Indian context. He further explained the variety of big data – Speech datasets, Imagenet, Textual Data. But what remains to be seen is these diverse datasets in our local context. For example, datasets of indic languages can benefit both the organization and the consumer.

Apar Gupta said, “Data that is used for the prescriptive or predictive algorithms; 1. Data needs to be checked and 2. Inherent biases needs to be verified”. Gunja Kapoor talked about the data protection bill and how international trade agreements, MLATs and Track One Diplomacy hold key for an ideal cross-border data flow regime.

The second panel discussion on Cross-Border Data Flow fundamental to AI growth was moderated by Ms. Anubhuti Kaul Bhrany. The panelists included Mr. Rahul Sharma, Mr. Amol Kulkarni, Ms. Bishakha Bhattacharya, Ms. Pritika Kumar and Mr. Kazim Rizvi.

Giving the panel a technology perspective, Ms. Bishakha Bhattacharya of IBM stated, “There needs to be checks and balances to process AI-related solutions. An overhaul framework where not only performance and accuracy is tested but questions of biases are responded”.

The third panel dealt with Ethical and Legal Challenges around AI Deployment. It was moderated by Mr. Kushan Chakraborty. The panelists, mostly from the legal fraternity, held discussions around AI ethics and the “legality” of AI.  “It’s a paradoxical situation”, says Ms. Arya Tripathi, PSA Legal.

A key focus was whether AI entities could be considered under law, though it ticks on communication, goal-driven and creativeness factor.

Mr. Naman Aggarwal of Access Now said, “Technology is a value neutral paradigm. We first have to provide value to technology and only then we can start talking about giving “human rights” to AI.”

The final panel was moderated by Mr. Adnan Ansari. It was based on the theme of Policy Framework to Facilitate AI’s Success – Restrictive Vs. Expansive. This panel discussion debated which methodology is essential while creating a policy framework around AI and whether the success of AI depends on it being restrictive or expansive.

Dr. Narendra Jadhav, MP, Rajya Sabha in his valedictory remarks highlighted the importance of cross-border data flows and provided some key statistics.“The cross-border data flows has increased 45 times between 2004 and 2014. In 2014 only, they accounted for US $2.8 trillion in GDP and hence, cross-border data flows are important for the development of Industry 4.0”. He further stated, “Moving forward, trade agreements would hold the key to cross-border data flows. For data privacy and security, there needs to be a stakeholder consultation and anonymization of data must be done to protect citizens identity.”

Kindly find the link to the working paper here – Intersection of AI with Cross-Border Data Flow and Privacy

dialogueDecember 14, 2018


The Dialogue, an emerging public-policy think tank, today delivered a conference on the AI, Privacy and Cross-Border data flows and also released a Working Paper titled “Intersection of Artificial Intelligence with Cross-Border Data Flow and Privacy”, here at Constitution Club of India. The conference saw participation from more than twenty speakers from law, technical and policy backgrounds. The findings of the paper suggest that the growth in the number of connected devices is fueling data-driven innovations that have helped humanity solve our challenges and drive prosperity. Data is going to drive the economies of the future, and in a data-driven regime, the idea of privacy takes center stage to protect the interest of consumers and citizens alike. Cloud computing services are providing secure, cost-effective, and scalable ways for companies to access and analyze this data, which is critical for AI and other data-driven techniques that empower consumers and workers, make businesses more agile and competitive and boost the competitiveness.

Kazim Rizvi, Founding Director of The Dialogue, stated:

“This paper addresses two key challenges – enabling cross-border data flows to drive AI and ensuring that high-level privacy standards are complied with during the deployment of machine learning technologies. For India to emerge as a leader in AI, it is crucial to meet both these challenges, which have been addressed in detail in the paper. It is indeed possible to harness the potential of AI while maintaining privacy of citizens, while at the same time, we must ensure that data is allowed to flow across borders to give our technologists, scientists, engineers and developers the best possible opportunity to leverage AI for India’s development.”

The insights generated from predictive analytics through machine learning tools are possible because of access to a significant amount of data. The AI algorithm learns from all the data it has available. Analytics analysis these sets to uncover hidden patterns, correlations and new insights. It helps business to stay competitive by making smarter choices, enhance efficiency and subsequently improve productivity, which leads to higher profits and market capitalization. In order to achieve this, organizations must be able to collect data from across regions to achieve a complete picture of their operations. Every day, large amounts of data flow course through the internet, over borders and between individuals, firms, and governments to power the internet and associated technologies. This data may originate from many sources located in multiple jurisdictions, making it imperative that data can move freely across borders.

Privacy by design techniques should also be incorporated due to the ubiquity of data collection policies. With rising data collection and storage, doctrinal notions around ‘consent’ and ‘privacy notices’ should be considered. Privacy by design techniques can be incorporated at the level of privacy notices but also at each level of information flow till its storage and processing stage. Further notions of transparency, accountability, and fairness must be incorporated. While there can be no strict set of rules or policy guidelines which can bound an algorithm designer, but, best practices following constitutional standards jurisdiction-wise can be developed as a benchmark.

So for continued AI growth, it is fundamental that its deployed with ‘privacy by design’ in mind. Presently, we are still in the nascent stages, worldwide, of AI development, and this is the right time to ensure that AI technologies comply with global privacy laws. The answer to the question as to whether it is possible to use AI, and protect people’s data while doing so, is yes. It is both possible and necessary in order to safeguard fundamental personal data protection rights.

Kindly find the link to the paper here – Intersection of AI with Cross-Border Data Flow and Privacy

dialogueDecember 8, 2018


The Dialogue has launched its in-house study on the impact of data localisation policies, titled ‘Data Localisation in a Globalised World: An Indian Perspective’, at the Constitution Club of India.

The study argues that cross-border data flows are fundamental to the growth of the global economy. By examining different aspects of data localization such as security, costs, international approaches, and a sectoral analysis, the study concludes that localization is not a viable means to the end that it is designed for. Instead, there are better alternatives available to improve law enforcement and ease of access, which would accomplish the same results without necessarily compromising on the prospects of growth.

The report developed through primary and secondary data analysis has forecasted a loss of GDP upto 1 percentage points in the short and medium term if India goes ahead with forced data localisation in its current avatar. The report also suggests that localisation may cost an average Indian worker upto 11% of his/her salary.

A lot of interesting insights were generated from the discourse. The event featured speakers that ranged from lawyers, government stakeholders, academia, cybersecurity professionals, public policy think tanks and media houses.

The keynote speech was given by Lt. Gen. Dr. SP Kochhar, AVSM, SM, VSM, CEO, Telecom Sector Skill Council of India, National Skill Development Corporation, Ministry of Skill Development, Government of India.

“There are two sets of the world – one is borderless and the other is border-limited. The borderless world is a globalized one. If we look at the factual data, it consists of Time and Space. In the borderless world, time has shrunk while the space has expanded (we can access any information through the internet in no time.) whereas in a border-limited world, although the time has shrunk, but the space still remains out of bound,” said Lt. Gen. Dr. SP Kochhar.

On Data Localisation, he outlines the lack of infrastructural capabilities in India. He raises some important questions on the sustainability of data localisation. He asks, “What are the things that are required for the government to achieve data localisation? There has to be a means to access and protect the data. Even if world-class data centers are put in place along with the best broadband capabilities, will it be able to persist the exponentially growing data generation? Can we guarantee a 24-hour power supply to these data centers? Do we have indigenously developed softwares and cybersecurity tools to secure the data?”

The keynote session was followed by a panel discussion on Data Localisation: Impact and Way Forward that was moderated by Mr. Kazim Rizvi, The Dialogue. The panelists included Mr. Saikat Dutta, Asia Times; Mr. Ananth Padmanabhan, Centre for Policy Research; Mr. Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, BSA Software Alliance and Mr. Ashish Porwal, Hreem Legal.

The panel focused on three key areas where data localisation will have impact – Geopolitics, trade and policy analysis. The founding director of The Dialogue, Mr. Kazim Rizvi, in his press release stated, “For India to become a Vishwa Guru, we must follow the principles of a free-market economy. Our approach towards data should be to maximise the potential of cross-border data flows. Rather than deploying a strict hand of forcing companies to store data in India through forced localisation, we should instead incentivise them to come, locate and process their data here. Moreover, to seek access of data for law enforcement, we should work with other countries on a bilateral level and enhance our domestic privacy regime to meet global standards under international privacy frameworks. Now is the time to integrate more with the rest of the world and abandon protectionist policies that can hinder our long-term growth.”

Mr. Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy of BSA Software Alliance started the panel discussions by pointing out how cross-border data flow is equally (if not more) an important topic while discussing data localisation. He says, “Will data localisation enhance security? Look at it from a consumer’s perspective. Localisation of data will lead to an increase in cost to the consumer”. He further gives an example of credit card transactions happening worldwide because of free encumbered cross-border data flow. “The credit card transaction happening in, for example, Singapore, is because of cross-border data exchange. Another example that could be taken is how cross-border data flow prevents cyber attacks originating in one part of the world. Through data sharing, these attacks can be identified.”

According to Mr. Krishnamoorthy, a major hindrance to data localisation is the fragmentation of data spread across the world.

Continuing the panel discussions, Mr. Ananth Padmanabhan of CPR says, “Data localisation is not a policy vs policy debate. It is a policy vs principle debate. In a globalized world, internet freedom has been tightly blended in every user. With the verdict on Aadhaar and Right To Privacy, there is a triple test before the State goes further in implementing localisation. The three points to keep in mind before implementing a regulation like this are: 1) Law, 2) Legitimate state claim, and 3) the least restrictive measures employed.”

Extending on the aforementioned points, Mr. Saikat Dutta, Asia Times spoke, “Data Localisation is like an onion ring. The more you peel, the more layers can be found. For an informed decision making, should we consider data localisation or metadata localisation?” He speaks about the concerns surrounding data localisation and its impact on trade and innovation, “Data Localisation will restrict competition and will curb innovation and innovative economy. Is it possible to create the next billion dollar company like Facebook with such a regulation is place? The answer is no.”

Mr. Ashish Porwal from Hreem Legal draws parallel between the Preamble and The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018. He states, “If privacy is a fundamental right, it means that the data principal should have a complete control over the data”. He points out the importance of an informed consent framework. He says that this discourse can also be interpreted differently. “Looking at it from a different perspective, in a way, The Bill is violating privacy.”

On MLATs and data sharing agreements, key outcomes from the discussion were reforms needed; both structural and contractual. Mr. Dutta says, “MLATs have gotten better in the past one year. If we see, the majority of MLATs signed in the world are with the US. The understanding between our (Indian) authorities and US has improved. India should actively participate in global discourse and discussions arising from the Budapest Convention.” He recommends having permanent officials who would work just towards MLATs and data access. Mr. Kazim Rizvi intervenes and states how the TRAI consultation paper has completely done away with data localisation and instead focused on data sharing agreements under CLOUD Act. Extending the points on MLATs, Mr. Ashish recommends structuring the whole process of drawing out MLATs and accessing the data. “If we read the current MLATs, there are no specific timeline on getting the data back to the LEAs. Also, there is no specific authority that can be held accountable.”

Kindly click below to view the study:

Data Localisation in a Globalised World

About us

India is marred with a complex social, economic and political structure, which requires innovative solutions to solve the most difficult problems of today. India is also a land of opportunities despite its challenges, mainly due to its demographic dividend and cultural diversity. The Dialogue is founded with the vision of harnessing the opportunities present in India today by reinventing the policy and political discourse in order to drive a forward looking narrative for the country.